He points at me, which means he’s about to go into one of his Khalil philosophical moments. “‘Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Listen! The Hate U – the letter U – Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
Angie Thomas, the author of the young adult novel, The Hate U Give, published in 2017 by Walker Books, did not hold back in her stunning debut novel. She didn’t make waves, no, she created a whole tsunami and I am here for it! The novel was written in the first person point of view from the perspective of Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who was the only witness to the shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Soon after this tragic and unjust event, her eyes are forced open to the less obvious racism black people experience daily and a system that ultimately works against her.
I wouldn’t say that THUG was a massive culture shock, but I did acknowledge a significant number of differences between the life that I live and the life that a girl like Starr lives. First, it was the dialogue. I could not relate to the way that the characters spoke and the slang that they used. I love THUG for that. It truly emphasised the complexity of the characters, breathing life into them rather than them being just words on a page. Secondly, it was “the talk“, and this hit me the most. The keep-your-hands-visible-don’t-make-any-sudden-moves-only-speak-when-they-speak-to-you talk was very different to the if-you’re-in-trouble-find-a-police-officer-and-he-will-protect-you talk that I received, and that shattered my heart. Prior to THUG, I had never denied my privilege, but I don’t think I can accurately describe the feeling you get the moment you truly understand white privilege. Angie Thomas doesn’t stop there though (remember what I said about that tsunami).
The shooting happens in the second chapter of the novel, so the remaining 24 chapters that follow revolve around the aftermath of the shooting. The book is divided into five parts, in order to follow the events of the story with ease: When it Happens, Five Weeks After It, Eight Weeks After It, Ten Weeks After It, and The Decision- Thirteen Weeks After It. Although the novel is a huge build-up to the decision as to whether or not the police officer is charged with the murder of Khalil, there is so much more Angie Thomas tackles. THUG’s political criticism was clearly inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. I was particularly impressed by the manner in which Angie Thomas criticized the media and its problematic role in this. If you’re not white, you’re guilty until proven innocent. The media portrayed Khalil as the drug-dealer who got what was coming for him, rather than the innocent young man who got shot three times by a trigger-happy police officer.
What made me particularly uncomfortable was the reaction by the white community. Although Starr was born and raised in a poor community, she attends a fancy school in the suburbs. Therefore, her boyfriend and friends are white. She often talks about being a different, less “ghetto” version of herself at school and around her friends. When the news makes national headlines, she notices people siding with the police officer rather than the real victim, Khalil. Due to the media’s portrayal of Khalil, people were justifying his murder by empathising with the police officer. It made me feel ashamed, knowing that I too have tried to justify something that is entirely unjust based on the garbage the media has highlighted. He was a drug-dealer (to make money to support his family after his grandmother got cancer and had to stop working, and he was “tired of choosing between lights and food“) and a possible gang member (he was invited to join a gang, but he actually declined the offer), so it’s no surprise he had a thing with the police, right? No, and I am sorry for ever taking the easy way out before getting to know the victim.
THUG has many messages, but the most noteworthy message that I believe Angie Thomas successfully communicated was that your voice is your biggest weapon. Throughout the novel, we read about how Starr battles with finding the courage to use her voice. When her friend makes racist comments, she struggles to use her voice. When the media alters the story about the night Khalil got shot, she struggles to use her voice. Eventually, she realises: “That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”. Your voice is your biggest weapon.
Angie Thomas created a masterpiece. The Hate U Give made me cry, it made me laugh, it made me smile, it made me angry, and it made me uncomfortable. I carefully read every single word and allowed the sentences to settle in my mind. I didn’t want to miss a single detail. This novel is raw and powerful and unapologetically unforgettable. The characters were so complex and three-dimensional. Her writing is brilliant, it felt like I was Starr and Khalil was my best friend and her story became my story for a few minutes, but then I looked away from the words and the pages and I realised that Starr’s story will never be my story. That is my privilege. I had so many “wow, I never thought about it this way before” moments, moments that I can’t thank the author for enough. I have noticed that a handful of white people believe that THUG is racist towards white people. My polite response is: get rid of your victim mentality. Don’t ask me for my impolite response. This novel was not written for our comfort and it was not meant to be politically correct.
What more can I say? Out of all the books I have ever written about, this is the book you need to read right now! When you’re done, fangirl over the cast of the upcoming movie with me.
“Lack of opportunities. Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities, and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. Then, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many schools in our neighbourhoods don’t prepare us well enough. Our schools don’t get the resources to equip you. It’s easier to find some crack than it is to find a good school around here.
Now think ’bout this. How did the drugs even get in our neighborhood? This is a multibillion-dollar industry. That sh*t is flown into our communities but I don’t know anybody with a private jet.
Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community.
You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils, who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can’t get jobs unless they’re clean, and they can’t pay for rehab unless they get jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again.
That’s the hate they’re giving us, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”